I was born […] Lanao del Norte, Philippines. Since birth, my parents were devoted Seventh Day Adventists, one of the thousand branches in Christendom. I was a former Evangelist of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA). From childhood until I became Muslim in 1981, I had been a devoted SDA.
[…] My father was a former member of the ILAGA and CHDF (Civilian Home Defense Force) formed by a former dictator, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. The Ilonggo Land Grabbing Association (ILAGA) is the name given to a cultic group of Christians who are trained to grab Muslim lands and annihilate Muslims in Southern Philippines. […] The ILAGA members believe that the more Muslims they kill, the more power they will possess.
[…] In childhood I was indoctrinated (brainwashed) that Muslims are pagans. We believed that Muslims are warlike people, traitors, happy to kill non-Muslims, lawless, and all negative attributes of humanity are in the Muslims’ doctrines. Actually, when I was a Christian, I did not know the difference between Islam, Muslim, and Moros—I believed they were all synonymous with paganism. What I knew about Muslims was that "they were pagans and idiots!"'
[…] I was brought up in a conservative Christian educational institution (church school). In my early days of childhood, we were trained to open the Bible quickly and explain the meaning of the text day and night. […]
In 1981, I was trained extensively in Pagadian City, Philippines how to preach Christianity, particularly in the Muslim community, and with the pretext of selling medical books under the banner of Adventism. We were later formed into groups and were assigned in Zamboanga City, Southern Philippines to conduct house-to-house and office-to-office evangelism.
Our main targets were to raise funds and to spread our doctrines and convert the Muslims to Christianity (Adventism). Even today there are Christian Institutions in the heart of the Muslim community in Mindanao whose main motive is to gradually Christianize the Muslims.
One day in Zamboanga City, I was assigned to the Al-Malin Shipping Line Office, district of Santa Barbara, to do our jobs. That is where I had my first encounter with a Muslim intellectual. His name is Najeeb Razul Fernandez, formerly Samuel Fernandez, who was also a former Seventh Day Adventist-Evangelist.
We discovered later that we were neighbors during our childhood, and our parents and his uncle’s family (Memong Fernandez) were close friends and neighbors.
I introduced myself to Mr. Najeeb Razul Fernandez. He warmly welcomed me and asked my purpose of visiting his office. He was a liaison officer that time at Al-Malin Shipping Line Office. He asked me, “Are you Seventh Day Adventist?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Of course! We would not be a Seventh Day Adventist unless we believe and follow Jesus Christ!”
He continued, “Your religion is Seventh Day Adventist, was Jesus Christ a Seventh Day Adventist?”
I knew that if I answer “yes,” the next question would be; “Can you show me in your Bible that Jesus Christ was a Seventh Day Adventist?” I knew well that there is no passage in the Bible that mentions that Jesus Christ was an Adventist! I was shocked at the question because in my experience I never encountered such a question in my life.
I tried my best to ignore his question, and I talked about things which were not related to his question. He repeated the question directly to my eyes, and said; “If you could not answer that question, please bring that question to your team leader and tell me his response.”
Then he related to me the true name and life of Jesus Christ, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, whose name is Issa Al-Maseeh ibn Maryam in the Muslim world. Jesus was a prophet and messenger of God.
The religion of the Muslims and the prophets of Allah is Islam. And in fact, the prophets of Allah (God) were Muslims. He also emphasized that Islam teaches about the Day of Resurrection, Judgment Day, Paradise, Hell-Fire, Angels, Prophethood, Morals, Divine Books, etc.
All these words were like thunderbolts that awakened me from a deep sleep! After I heard those words, I did convey them to my team leader, and I asked him what the religion of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus Christ was. He did not answer; instead, I received a warning not to talk to Mr. Fernandez, or I will be excommunicated. My team leader’s reaction had pushed me to investigate what Islam is all about. It also sowed doubts about my belief being a Seventh Day Adventist.
If indeed my belief is the truth, I am not supposed to be afraid to deal with other religions! [End of part I]
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As a child, I always had access to a short-wave radio. I used to listen to the BBC World Service about the Middle East. I also loved the music from that part of the world, and I probably was listening to the Quran being recited but did not know it at the time.
As I grew older, I continued to listen to the BBC World Service. Back then, they had a program called Words of Faith in which they had a five- to an eight-minute talk given by a different religious speaker each day of the week representing all the major religions in the United Kingdom. Out of all the speakers, the Muslims were the ones I loved listening to most.
Every time the Muslim representative spoke, I wanted to find out more about Islam. My impression of the religion was that the person who practices Islam is a happy person, not like the mean people portrayed by the American media. I just refused to believe people that loved Allah so much could be like the people portrayed by the media. Because I come from a Jewish background, the thing that united me with Islam was the belief that Allah had no partners.
An important time in my life came when I met a real Muslim but did not know it yet. I was doing contracting computer programming work in New York State when I had a strong urge to visit the United Kingdom.
Sometime after I started working at LogoTech, I found out that my supervisor, Anis Karim, was Muslim. I asked him if he knew how I could get a copy of the Quran. To my surprise, he obtained a copy of the Quran for me within a few days. […] The next day, while eating breakfast, I started to read. Later I found out that “read” is what Allah had the Angel Gabriel instruct our beloved Prophet to do, even though he could not read or write!
Well, words can’t describe how I felt when I read just that small portion of the world’s most holy book. It took only 10 pages, when, at that point, I told myself that this religion was for me. This occurred around 1990. The more I read, the more I wanted to know, and I loved what I was reading.
At the time, I did not know anything about how to pray or any of the details of Islam. If Anis had invited me to go to the masjid [mosque] in London, I would have gone with him. […] At the time, I knew that Muslims prayed several times a day, and so I started to do so at night before I went to bed and in the morning when I woke up.
[…] My sister asked me if I could help her find Islamic jewelry as a gift. At that time I had no idea that there were Muslims in Huntsville.
Then Allah put things into place for me. I remembered that there was a shop called Crescent Imports, which I thought was run by Muslims. It was not. It was run by the group called Nation of Islam. […]
I do thank Allah for having them direct me to the masjid. […]I spoke to the imam, and he invited me to perform salat (Prayer) with the Muslim brothers. This was a turning point in my life. I loved it and started to visit the masjid once a week at night. Then I started to visit it several times a week at night. The urge to come more times was stronger and I now perform most of my prayers at the masjid, except `Asr and Maghrib prayers when I am at work.
In November of 1996, I publicly made Shahadah. At work, I pray Zhuhr and Asr by myself or with other Muslim brothers in a small mosque in my workplace. I proudly carry my prayer rug in the hallways at my work in an attempt to get people to ask me what they are. When they do ask me about it, I tell them that I am Muslim and the mats are what I use to pray on. Also, my work area, including my computer, is decorated with Islamic artwork. My background on my computer is usually the Kaaba or our masjid.
Now that I am a Muslim, there is no turning back to disbelief!
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My name is Justin Peyton, and I am a 29-year-old African American convert to Islam, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a loving, two-parent, and middle-class household with three siblings.
Growing up, my family and I identified ourselves as Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday services or other activities. The extent of religious expression in our home was celebrating Christmas.
[…] If I had to identify one single event as the starting point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11. After months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors, and others, growing up in Philadelphia.
It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.
So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.
[…] Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore, purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages listing which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything that I read made intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more months I decided that reading and learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby mosques.
I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam with local Muslims.
On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me, the information he shared permeated my heart.
During my second visit […] it dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I returned to school.
That community was wonderful and had I stayed in the vicinity, and I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was not to be. Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion. […] Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I gained and the experiences I had during the course of my service. But in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.
Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of the U.S. With no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my faith. It wasn't until some three years into my service that I met another practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam and how to navigate military life as a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.
After completing my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community, and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.
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